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Heatwaves and Wildfires in British Columbia

Throughout the summer, British Columbia has been facing 5 times the heat they would experience regularly. As the weather became hotter and hotter, there was a 195% increase in sudden deaths. Later on, wildfires we have been seeing frequently around the world have also begun to spark in the area causing many evacuations. And there is a large question in many people’s heads: Are these all caused by climate change?

Since June, British Columbia has broken numerous national records of highest temperatures. The highest has been recorded in Lytton, BC with a 49.6 C (121.3F). Many people who do not have air conditioning have been trying to find ways to keep cool during the intense heat by going to other people’s houses who do have an AC or buying many fans. Unfortunately, some weren’t able to escape the heat. 570 of the 815 deaths have been proven to be caused by extreme heat of which 79% of whom had died are above the age of 65. As British Columbia is also known for its breathtaking nature, the effects the heatwave had on the ecosystem has also been a curiosity. Unfortunately, more than a billion seashore animals along the Salish sea shoreline may have died in the heat. Marine biologists say that the mussels will recover within the next two years. Since sea stars and clams can live up to decades, they can take longer. Seaweed and kelp were also found dead and dried out. Other living things who use these seashore animals as habitats and food sources are getting affected as well. If British Columbia’s future summers continue to be extremely hot, the growth and recovery of the animals can be damaged. Overall, the temperatures have gotten lower but more heatwaves are expected to occur in the next couple of weeks.

These unusual heat waves happen because of human-induced climate change. Weather patterns and the climate of a particular area change. Other weather patterns such as storms and heatwaves happen more frequently. In the future, heat waves such as this are said to occur more often in more extreme ways. Climatologists have come to the conclusion that this heatwave was “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change or pre-industrial revolution.” And that human-caused climate change has made this heatwave 150 times more likely to occur.

Another unfortunate event in the area is wildfires. On July 27, the count was updated to 253 active wildfires, double the average annual forest fires halfway into the fire season. Looking at British Columbia's beautiful scenery, this is very upsetting. Currently, there are 61 evacuation orders that cover 3700 properties and 85 evacuation alerts that expect people to evacuate immediately if a fire strengthens and grows. This is for 18 000 properties. At present, 21 reception centers support around 5000 evacuees. These fires can be caused and strengthened because of human actions, the heatwave, and lightning strikes. In January 2019, a study conducted at Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria has proved that “extreme summer temperatures during the 2017 British Columbia forest fire season were made over twenty times more likely by human-induced climate change. Extreme high temperatures combined with dry conditions increase the likelihood of wildfire ignition and spread.” This proves that there is a possibility of the heatwave fueling and causing some of the wildfires which can explain the fire in the heatwave record village, Lytton. According to a member of parliament representing the region, 90% of the town burnt down. Almost everyone was able to evacuate just on time. Except for 2 people.

Although the heatwave may have provoked some fires, according to British Columbia Wildfire Services, 70% of the wildfires were caused by lightning strikes. This is an interesting topic about pyrocumulonimbus clouds also known as fire clouds. These types of clouds are created from the heat and moisture from a fire. For this reason, they are located above fires and can be very large. They often release powerful blasts of air also known as downbursts that can fuel the flames of the fire. These clouds can also strike dry lightning (be able to strike lightning without any precipitation falling to the land). While doing so, they can cause more wildfires to occur.


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